By Tim Leeds
Downtown business owners say they plan to attend a meeting with officials from the Montana Department of Transportation on Friday to talk about plans to upgrade First Street.
Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber arranged the meeting for local residents and business people to discuss the proposed upgrade, now in a review process.
Downtown business owners say they are worried about losing parking if turning lanes are installed. The meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Triangle Telephone Cooperative Association building west of Havre.
Russ DeVries, who owns buildings on First Street and operates several businesses, including the Oxford Billiard Parlor in the 300 block of First Street, said losing parking is a major concern of his. Sections of First Street, such as the north side on the 300 block, contain older buildings that are dependent on on-street parking, he said.
"I just never contemplated they would take away our parking," he said. "If you want to see downtown go down further eliminate the parking."
Mick Johnson, administrator of MDT's Great Falls District, said his department will make allowances for the town's desires in planning the upgrade. MDT has hired a consultant to study the traffic on First Street and make recommendations about how to improve it, which could include turning lanes. But the concerns of Havre will weigh in the decision.
"We're still conscious of what the town wants," he said. " We try to do what we can for the community."
Once the consultant makes recommendations, Johnson said, his department will meet with the head traffic engineer in Helena to decide whether MDT should follow the recommendations. MDT usually agrees with the consultant's recommendations, he added.
Scott Young, who owns and operates Norman's Ranch and Sportswear on the 100 block of Third Avenue, said parking is also one of his concerns.
"We've just got to try to hold onto some parking there," he said.
Young said losing the on-street parking is compounded by the Chamber's proposal to build a downtown park and city square on the south side of the 300 block of First Street. The area is now a privately owned parking lot.
DeVries said that while on-street parking was eliminated on First Street West in the spring of 2000, businesses on that side of town had off-street parking and weren't hurt too much by it. MDT installed turning lanes from the western edge of town to Montana Avenue at that time.
The older buildings that don't have off-street parking are the ones that need to be concerned about the upgrade, DeVries said.